2Sa_12:13. And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.
IT is scarcely to be conceived to what a degree sin will blind the eyes, and harden the heart. We see indeed that the ungodly world will commit every species of iniquity without either shame or remorse: but who would imagine that a person enlightened, renewed, and sanctified by the Spirit of God, should in the space of a few days be reduced by sin to a state of utter obduracy? Yet such was the change which one single temptation speedily effected on him who was “the man after God’s own heart.” The circumstances of David’s crime are so well known, that they need not at present to be enlarged upon. But his long impenitence, his apparent forgetfulness of his horrid deeds, and his excessive severity against a man whose fault bore no proportion to his own, are less noticed; though they cannot fail to strike every one who reads the account of his conversation with Nathan. By an apposite and well-wrought parable, the Prophet Nathan had led David inadvertently to pass sentence against himself; and then availed himself of the opportunity to charge home upon him the crimes he had perpetrated. Then it was, and not till then, that David felt a just sense of his guilt: though nine months at least had elapsed since his criminal intercourse with Bathsheba, yet his conscience had slept, till it was now awakened to perform its office. On this occasion he confessed his sin to Nathan; and received from Nathan a consolatory assurance, that his iniquity, heinous as it was, was pardoned.
There are two points to which the text directs our attention;
There does not at first sight appear any thing worthy of notice in David’s confession: but, if we examine it carefully, we shall find in it several things which indicated a deep and true repentance.
He acknowledged his sin as an offence against God—
[The evil of sin in this view is generally overlooked; and the quality of actions is appreciated and determined by their effects on society. Hence the offences which are committed solely against God, such as unbelief, impenitence, self-righteousness, and the like, are never condemned by the world, or even considered as blemishing the moral character at all; while such crimes as theft and perjury render a man universally execrated and abhorred. But it is from its relation to God that sin derives its principal malignity: its chief heinousness consists in its being a violation of God’s law, a contempt of his authority, and a practical denial of all his attributes. If any sin whatever could deserve to be marked with superior infamy on other considerations, it would surely be the crimes which David had committed: yet, in adverting to these very actions, David passes over their criminality in relation to man, and notices them only as offences against God [Note: See Psa_51:4. Joseph’s views of sin perfectly agreed with those of David. See Gen_39:9.]. This shews that he had just views of his conduct: and that the grounds of his humiliation were precisely such as the occasion required.]
He made no attempt to extenuate his guilt—
[Unhumbled persons uniformly endeavour to palliate their faults. Adam cast the blame of his transgression on Eve; and Eve transferred it to the serpent [Note: Gen_3:12-13.]. Saul, when reproved for sparing Agag and the chief of the spoil, shifted the blame from himself upon the people; and, as far as it still attached to him, excused himself as acting involuntarily, and as overawed by the people [Note: 1Sa_15:15; 1Sa_15:24.]. But David’s mouth was shut: he uttered not one single word in extenuation of his crimes: heavy as Nathan’s charge against him was, he fell under it. This was another excellent proof of his penitence and contrition: and it is certain, that wherever real humiliation is, the penitent will be more ready to aggravate his guilt, than to palliate and excuse it.]
He manifested no displeasure against his reprover—
[Men in general, and great men in particular, are very apt to take offence, when told of their faults. They think themselves at liberty to insult God as much as they please: but no one must take the liberty to maintain the cause of God in opposition to them. Some indeed have been found, in different ages, who have ventured to speak with faithfulness to monarchs: but they have always done it at the peril of their lives [Note: See 1Ki_13:4; 1Ki_21:20; 1Ki_22:8 and 2Ki_1:9 and 2Ch_16:10.], and not unfrequently have paid the penalty of death for their presumption [Note: 2Ch_24:21; 2Ch_25:16 and Mat_14:3-5; Mat_14:10.]. But in the present instance no displeasure at all was manifested: on the contrary, we have reason to think that Nathan was more endeared to David than ever by his fidelity, since David afterwards called one of his own children by the prophet’s name [Note: 2Sa_5:14.]; and shewed confidence in him to the latest hour of his life [Note: 1Ki_1:24; 1Ki_1:27; 1Ki_1:32-34.]. In this therefore we have a further evidence of the sincerity and depth of David’s repentance.]
He was willing to take shame to himself even before men—
[There is nothing which men will not do in order to conceal their guilt from men: they will “add iniquity to iniquity,” and perpetrate murder itself, in order to avoid the shame to which their crimes have exposed them. How keenly was Saul affected by Samuel’s refusal to honour him before the people! The dread of that public dishonour pained him more than all the denunciations of God’s wrath [Note: 1Sa_15:25-30.]. But the reproaches of men, however severe, were of no account in David’s eyes: that which pained him was, that he had given occasion for those reproaches, and that God would be dishonoured by them: and therefore, though he thereby published and perpetuated his own shame, he wrote some of his penitential Psalms, and set them to music for the use of penitents in that and all succeeding ages. Being “vile in his own eyes,” it was a matter of small concern to him that he was vile also in the eyes of others: he lothed and “abhorred himself,” and therefore submitted readily to be abhorred by others.]
The truth of his repentance being manifest, we proceed to notice,
His acceptance consequent upon it—
Very remarkable was the answer of the prophet to the royal penitent. We remark from it that David’s acceptance with God was,
[There was no interval of time between the confession of David and the reply of Nathan. The very instant that David repented, God forgave him. This is particularly noticed by David himself as a marvellous expression of God’s love and mercy; “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin [Note: Psa_32:5.].” We should have expected that God would suspend his forgiveness, till David should have evinced the truth of his repentance by a subsequent life of piety: but “God’s ways and thoughts are not like ours; yea rather, they are as much above ours as the heavens are above the earth [Note: Isa_55:8-9.].” God acts in a way worthy of himself. His grace is his own, to dispose of according to his sovereign will; and he dispenses it to whomsoever, and in whatever way, he sees fit. He shews, if we may so speak, peculiar pleasure in manifesting his compassion towards repenting sinners. He represents himself as falling on the neck of the returning prodigal, and as interrupting his confessions by testimonies of his parental love and pardoning grace. Towards the dying thief also our incarnate God displayed the same readiness to forgive, in that he not only complied with his petition, but far exceeded, without one moment’s hesitation, his most enlarged desires [Note: Luk_23:42-43.].
Thus has he given us a practical comment on his own gracious declarations, and demonstrated, for our comfort, that he is “slow to anger and ready to forgive.”]
[Nathan spake, not as a man who suggested only a surmise or doubtful opinion, but as a prophet who was inspired to declare what God had really done. God willed not that his repenting servant should be kept in suspense; and therefore ordered Nathan to communicate to him the joyful tidings, not that God would put away his sin, but that he had put it away, and that the penal consequences of his transgression should never come upon his soul. It is thus that God frequently acts towards his people: as he made known to David by his prophet, so he reveals to them by his Spirit, that their iniquities are forgiven, and their sins covered [Note: See Isa_6:7; Isa_38:17; Zec_3:4.]. He desires not the constrained service of a slave, but the willing and grateful obedience of a child. “Though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies [Note: Lam_3:32.];” and will cause his believing people to enjoy an assured sense of their acceptance with him [Note: Isa_12:1 and Rom_8:15-16.].]
[The sins which David had committed were from that very moment “blotted out as a morning cloud:” neither his adultery nor his murder, nor one particle of guilt of any kind, was imputed to him. There were indeed some temporal judgments entailed upon him: the fruit of his adulterous commerce was blasted, and the child stricken with death. David’s own wives were all defiled publicly by his son Absalom: and the sword, according to Nathan’s prediction, never departed from his house. These things however were merely temporal, and were designed as much for the benefit of others as for his correction: they tended to impress on all a sense of the malignity of David’s crimes; and to shew that, however God might pity and forgive a sinner, he utterly and unchangeably abhorred sin. But, notwithstanding these remembrancers of his iniquity, his sin was “cast, as it were, into the very depths of the sea;” as ours also shall be, if we truly repent; nor will God ever remember them against us any more for ever [Note: Mic_7:18-19; Heb_8:12.].]
We may learn then from this subject,
The benefit of a judicious and faithful Ministry—
[The method which Nathan used in order to reach the conscience of David, was extremely judicious: and when he had succeeded in making a breach, then he commenced a direct attack, “Thou art the man.” Had he been less cautious, he had probably shut the ears of his royal master; and had he been satisfied with offering some oblique hints, he had failed to impress his callous mind. But by a happy union of wisdom and fidelity, he gained his point [Note: Pro_25:12.]. Well was it for David that he had such a prophet in his court; for, without his admonitions, he might probably have become more and more obdurate, till he had perished in his sin. Thus should all esteem themselves highly favoured of God, if they have a minister, who, while he fears not the faces of men, has a tender love for their souls. They should gladly listen to his admonitions, and thankfully receive his reproofs: they should make it a continual subject of their prayers, that his word may come with power to their souls, to awaken them to a sense of sin, and to bring them to the enjoyment of salvation.]
The boundless extent of God’s mercy—
[Who would have conceived it possible that such sins as David’s should be so soon forgiven? But, “as God’s majesty is, so also is his mercy.” “He delighteth in mercy;” and “waits that he may be gracious unto us.” His message to us is, “Only acknowledge thy transgressions that thou hast sinned against the Lord thy God [Note: Jer_3:13.].” And for our encouragement he declares, “If any say, I have sinned, and it profited me not; I will deliver him from going down into the pit, and his soul shall see the light [Note: Job_33:27-28.].” Let us then carry all our sins to him: whether they have been more or less heinous in the sight of men, let us not continue under the guilt of them, when they may be so speedily removed: let us remember, that, in and through Christ, God is reconciled to a guilty world; and that, while “they who cover their sins shall not prosper, whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy [Note: Pro_28:13.].”]